A Documentary About 3 New Orleans Marching Bands

The Whole Gritty City is a 90-minute documentary that plunges viewers into the world of three New Orleans school marching bands. The film follows kids growing up in America's most musical city, and one of its most dangerous, as their band directors get them ready to perform in the Mardi Gras parades, and teach them to succeed and to survive. Navigating the urban minefield through moments of setback, loss, discovery, and triumph, these children and their adult leaders reveal the power and resilience of a culture.


The Whole Gritty City understands what ultimately powers New Orleans, and therefore, it champions what the American urban experience offers us all in terms of culture, community and ultimately, meaning. -David Simon creator of Treme, The Wire


The Whole Gritty City is a documentary in the Fred Wiseman mold...sensitive, intelligent and inspirational. –David Bianculli, “Fresh Air”, NPR

At once heartbreaking and hopeful –Robert Lloyd, LA Times

The Whole Gritty City is both a celebratory film...and a very emotional one, an at-times heartbreaking portrait of our at-times heartbreaking city. Mike Scott, New Orleans Times Picayune

Marching bands have never been so captivating. The spontaneity, insights, candor, humor, joy, and even tragedy Barber and Lambertson encountered and shaped into a remarkable film couldn't possibly have been anticipated. The result -- at times joyful, at other times incredibly sad -- is an inspiring and moving documentary with great people who have amazing stories to tell. Be prepared to be shattered by some of them. -Common Sense Media

The Whole Gritty City should be required viewing for any music educator in training, especially those with hopes for a career as a band director. All academic music libraries supporting music education programs are highly recommended to include this documentary in their media collection. Libraries supporting ethnomusicology, youth studies, race studies, or the social sciences will also find the film a worthwhile addition.  - Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland for Educational Media Reviews Online

Highly recommended for libraries collecting urban studies and for building community, music, and band programs.–Stephanie Bange,Wright State University, Dayton, OH, for School Library Journal

This film is a musical celebration of New Orleans and its people, showing us that music is life, and where there is music, there is hope. Highly recommended. — Jessica Lawrence for Booklist

It’s a testament to the skill of filmmakers Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson — but even more so to the poignant soulfulness of the children featured — that the kids outperform even the famously charismatic adult band directors. –Sarah Carr, The Hechinger Report

"Il n’es pas toujours aisé de percevoir l’énergie des cultures noires dans leur réponse à la condition qui leur est faite. The Whole Gritty City est une impressionante réponse à cette question. On sort de ce film ému, ébranlé, mobilisé". - Olivier Barlet, Africultures.com

"Richard Barber signe un très joli film aux allures de documentaire confidentiel, à la structure réfléchie et au propos poussé : un hymne à la musique, à la joie et à l’espoir. « The whole gritty city », ou l’art incroyable de faire pousser des fleurs sur les plus tristes charniers". - Julie Albesa, Untitledmag.fr

"« The Whole Gritty City » ne donne pas l’idée que tout va bien ; car non, à La Nouvelle-Orléans, tout ne va pas bien. Mais pourtant, dans ce décor où la misère côtoie les blessures, il semble que quelque chose germe, que quelque chose pousse. Les fanfares semblent alors être la bouffée d’air après la noyade ; car, même là où la mort apparaît, dans les foules d’un enterrement, les trompettes chantent et dansent, levées vers le ciel". - Juliette Durand, Indiemusic.fr

"Toute la tendresse de ce film n’efface pas l’échec patent de la société civile : mais il y a là une allégresse, une forme de vie collective, une vie créative, qui sont magnifiques. La musique transcende les communautés, les genres, les conflits : elle enseigne l’exubérance, la résistance et, aussi, la paix". - L'Obs


I've watched the movie 3 times...These teachers have saved lives and brought meaning to the lives of the students they touched. So uplifting. Life does not get better than that.

I bought a copy of this for our school library, as the message is so poignant and relevant. Everyone who has watched it has told me how much they enjoyed it, with adjectives like inspiring, eye-opening, mind-blowing, and vivid. Though this is a documentary, it is wholly engaging to those who say they don't like documentaries.

This is the best documentary I've seen in A LONG time. Beautifully done. It made my hair stand on end...like the anticipation you feel waiting for the parade to start. If you love music. If you love New Orleans. Even if you don't love New Orleans. If you love your kids. Watch this. It will make your spirt soar. It will also break your heart.

I am a lover of great documentaries and this is the best of this year.

 It's great to see the transformation of a kids confidence when they belong to something bigger than them.....Great job!...A MUST SEE!!!

An eye-opening documentary! Also the music was great!

Equal parts funny, tragic and magical. If anyone likes marching bands, you'll like this. Anyone loves to see people come together and excel despite personal, societal setbacks, you'll love this film.

Made the mistake of watching this while at my most homesick. Absolutely beautiful and skillfully done. One of my new favorite documentaries and I know it will reduce me to tears every time.

This is a film to watch with your friends, your parents, your children--a deeply inspirational story that takes you from hope to heartbreak, and back again.

Wow. Just wow. That's the best thing I've seen in a long time. It chimes true all way through.

One of the best documentaries I've seen. What's happening in the band room is truly amazing.

Full of heart, beautifully edited, and a story which needs to be told, and told, and told.

This documentary is the best documentary I have seen in years, if not ever. Watch it.

This is a must-see movie on the power of music education, it will lift you up and break your heart at the same time.


I've seen it twice. I loved it. 

My favorite movie/documentary on Hulu right now i really enjoyed it, i love my city

Great documentary...I am music teacher in an urban school district and I showed this to my students....it was a very inspiring to them. Thanks

Finally seen it!!! And I must say I enjoyed it. Laughed and cried. Really good

Soo good. Heart wrenching and warming at the same time. 

I've watched this so many times! Great documentary

This one touched my heart!! Tells the true story of being in the inner city and music programs that help kids see another side of life....I ran out of thumbs to put up and my hands hurt from clapping!!

I saw this at the Ojai (California) Film Festival a few months ago...I absolutely loved it! Smiles, tears, more smiles....very uplifting!

I can't count how many times I've watched this movie. I am always suggesting it to others. I love it!

This movie is so powerful and it needs to be shared and broadcast for everyone to see. Music is the Heart of New Orleans the sounds of some many souls can be heard.

Phenomenal documentary.

Thanks for the documentary. Great and mooving!

Just finished watching it 2 minutes ago. Loved, loved, loved it. Beautiful. Powerful words. Inspirational band directors. Amazing dedication by so many students/musicians. A must see.

Own it love it

Raw, real, and beautiful all at the same time.

Wow. Both beautiful and tragic. More films like this need to be made.

Floored. Wow. Raw. Honest. Beautiful. Those band directors are heroes. Those kids are winners.

Music/art/culture matters. If you doubt that, watch @WholeGrittyCity. Powerful, poignant, & inspirational.

You showed a side of America that needs to be shown more often...Not always the bad but the good needs to be seen as well.

It was riveting, and so well-produced, and it made me cry...In those 2 hrs, I ended up feeling almost like I knew the people.

Thank you for showcasing what these children & people go thru on a daily basis.

This was the all time, absolute, GREATEST documentary I've seen in a long time. To the band members: YOU ROCK!!!

Gorgeous, heartbreaking, deeply moving.

o...m...g I still have this on my mind POWERFUL #thatisall

Congratulations; what a lovely, real representation.

Now that we have stopped crying I need to tell you that you made a great movie....This is a beautiful, touching portrayal of a complex issue....Even beyond New Orleans, there are more stories of hope, talent and vision on every troubled block in every major city in this country.

"The emotional impact - the compassionate portrayal of complicated issues that defy a simple summary, - were all there."

Tore my heart right out.

This was so well done! The commitment and passion of the band directors is amazing! The ability of music to save is overwhelming!...The challenge beyond just watching is how to respond in our own communities.

Thank you for making this documentary. I can’t wait to share it with my music students and staff. Powerful and inspirational.

It was the best documentary that I ever seen on TV straight for every young person they have children to look at this is real love it very much.

I viewed this documentary with such pride. Being a retired teacher, I felt the love and concern that those teachers felt for their students!

Beautifully done. It really allows one to experience the reality of this world in a raw and touching way!

This just shows what the human spirit can do to shape the lives of young people who may think they have no hope. I am inspired to pay it forward.

It was so good, this should be seen by every music teacher, mentor, b and g club, to know the impact of the community, to see the sparkle in the kids eyes, then the sadness to have to go back home is heartbreaking, everybody needs to mentor one, just one, and plant a seed.

I watched it on Hulu a few days ago. It was amazing, gave me chills the whole time. Got teary at the end. Excellent, excellent job guys.


The Whole Gritty City features three marching bands in the years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city: the  O. Perry Walker and L.E. Rabouin high school bands., and The Roots of Music, a new band for middle school-age children. These young beginners in Roots are put through their paces by the program's founder Derrick Tabb, drummer for the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band.

As Mardi Gras approaches and the young musicians progress, the film focuses on a few of these kids. Partly through video they create with portable cameras, we discover their passions and quirks, their personal struggles and tragedies. We come to see the powerful positive role being in the band plays in their lives. 11-year-old Bear, determined to master the trumpet, lives in the shadow of an older brother murdered at age 19. 18-year-old drum major  Skully shouts out to loved ones he's lost to violence, including the band director who was a father figure. 12-year-old Jazz aspires to be a musician like her father, even as her mother struggles to provide for the family.

Along with their bandmates these kids enter into the rigors and glory of  marching in Mardi Gras parades in front of thousands of cheering spectators. The film culminates in a different kind of musical performance: a moving funeral tribute by band members from across the city to a young man who was one of their own. 

This New Orleans marching band story is at the same time a unique portrayal of an American inner city. It highlights men with an open-eyed, deep commitment to the community they've grown up in and the children in their charge. Viewers who know first-hand the African American urban experience will find a celebration of the strength and insight of these men, and the potential and resilience of their students. Others will find a moving, empathetic portrayal of an unfamiliar world, and come to feel a stake in the struggles and triumphs of these children and their mentors.

In February 2014 the film aired nationally on CBS on "48 Hours Presents: THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY", a 2-hour special hosted by jazz great Wynton Marsalis.



"I'm competing with the drug dealers"   - Derrick Tabb

A roomful of 9-14 year-olds in The Roots of Music, the city's newest band, beat our rhythms on tables, still waiting for drums to arrive. Horn players barely coax sounds from instruments completely new to them. They all look up with respect, love, and a little fear, to the new program's founder, Derrick Tabb, the drummer from the legendary Rebirth Brass Band. Tabb had once been an angry kid on a downward spiral until his own middle school band director set him on a new course.

11-year old Bear is intent on mastering his new trumpet as a section leader in The Roots of Music. The realities of the streets loom large in Bear's life: in the blocks he avoids, the corners he flees at the sound of gunshots, in the photo of his brother, shot dead a year and a half ago at age 19.


"This ain't no make believe. You all know struggle. Everybody's struggling".               - Lonzie Jackson

Lonzie Jackson, the new director of The L.E. Rabouin High School Marching Band is transforming the band room into an oasis of order in a chaotic school.

"Some of the best people come from the hood....A lot of people who come from the gutter rise up and do bigger and better things with their lives. And that's real". - Kirk

In 16-year-old Kirk's struggle with his temper and the need to act tough, music sustains him: when he's not playing tuba in the Rabouin band he's at church where he performs impassioned mime dancing to gospel songs.

18-year-old Rabouin drum major Skully keeps a video camera close at hand, giving us a glimpse of his life outside of band, giving a shout-out to loved ones who have been killed, including "Mr. Shavers, the man who made it possible for me to be a drum major". As Skully leads the band in the parades, foremost in his mind is the musician who started the band, and then was murdered before he ever got to see his students play their instruments.


"It's hard to get the hood out of them. Because as soon as he hits that block, he's got to get hood again". - Wilbert Rawlins Jr.

Leading The O. Perry Walker High School Band is Wilbert Rawlins, a 6'4" gold-toothed powerhouse, driven to keep up his reputation as the best band director in the city. Rawlins credits his own band director with saving him from the fates of his seven closest childhood friends, all lost to murder and drugs. 

Rawlins steered his former drum major Brandon away from trouble and into college. Now he's hiring him as his assistant, hoping he'll carry on his legacy.

The Filmmakers

Richard Barber (Producer, Director, Editor)  has been recognized for his work as a producer and editor for television with Peabody, Emmy and Christopher awards, including the 2002 CBS documentary “9/11”. He has worked at CBS News for “Street Stories”, “48 Hours”, “Live to Tell”, "Brooklyn DA" and “Sunday Morning”. Previously he edited television series and independent documentaries for PBS, National Geographic and Lifetime

Andre Lambertson (Co-Director, Director of Photography) is an award-winning photojournalist and cinematographer. He recently received Pulitzer Center grants for photographic and video work about former child soldiers in Africa and another grant about the effects of the earthquake in Haiti in a year-long reporting project.  His ongoing video and photography project, “Ashes”, focuses on juvenile violence in America and the aftermath of such violence.

JIM BROWNE – Co-Producer

DOLLENA CAMPBELL, AMY BOYD – Associate Producers

JAKE SPRINGFIELD - Camera and sound